'Melbourne model' inflicts paralysis of choice

January 27, 2011

An Australian university has made changes to its innovative "new generation" undergraduate curriculum after satisfaction ratings from the first cohort of graduates revealed mixed results.

The so-called "Melbourne model", which includes a three-year broad undergraduate curriculum, left students paralysed by choice, a seminar last week heard.

In 2008, the first students enrolled in one of just six under-graduate degrees offered by the University of Melbourne. The curriculum allows students to choose subjects from outside their major disciplines and enables them to study interdisciplinary courses.

But a survey carried out last year found that although 80 per cent of the first cohort said that they were satisfied with their courses, only about two-thirds of students said they were satisfied with teaching engagement and course organisation.

David Beckett, assistant dean of Melbourne Graduate School, told the Curriculum Innovation Network seminar, held at the University of Southampton, that "a problem arose in the first three years, which was that the students felt the...choices were too random and did not fit together".

The problem centred on teaching organisation and course advice, he added.

To address this, the university has reduced the number of credits students are required to obtain from "breadth" courses.

It has cut the minimum requirement from 75 points to 50 points out of a 300-point degree programme. In addition, students are being offered clearer guidance about the routes they might choose to follow through their degree.

"It's a massive problem for us, upskilling professional staff - even the front desk - on what we are offering," he admitted.

Melbourne had feared that the introduction of broad degree courses would result in "bright flight", with ambitious students who knew exactly which discipline they wanted to study choosing alternative institutions, Professor Beckett said.

However, the domestic application rate to the institution has not diminished since the Melbourne model was introduced.

Nevertheless, academics at Melbourne have found the transition tough, the assistant dean told the seminar.

"We have had to rethink what it means to be teaching people. We have had to pull it apart and put it together differently," Professor Beckett said.

"Some staff have found that very difficult."

hannah.fearn@tsleducation.com.

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